Last Saturday I attempted to take a shower.
The fact that I dared to extract myself from the family group for upwards of ten minutes so that I could cleanse myself after having already been gone at the gym for an entire hour (never mind that everyone was sleeping during that time) … it was almost more than anyone could take.
“Mom! Do like this!” Eloise, my three-year-old, peered through the glass shower door and gestured for me to wipe away the steam.
“What?” I peered back at her.
“Mason said that he was your favorite baby, and it was super mean. Also, I need you to open this yogurt.” She pressed a frozen squeezable yogurt up against the door.
“I don’t know why Mason said that. Have someone else open the yogurt.” I stood back up and continued washing my hair.
“Mom!” Now my five-year-old, Vivi, entered the bathroom, her hands on her hips. “Why is Eloise getting a yogurt? Dad said I couldn’t have one, and this is so unfair. And Mason hurt my feelings.”
“I didn’t hurt your feelings!” Mason poked his head around the bathroom door. “They’re being dumb because I just said that I was the best baby. Which I was.”
“You weren’t the best baby. I am in the shower! Please leave!”
In a gesture of dramatic shock, Mason threw down his remote control causing his wall-climbing remote control car to clatter from the bathroom door where he was driving it. Viv turned and began chanting that she was the best baby, and Eloise continued crying about yogurt. I swung open the shower door and stuck my head out.
“Listen. None of you were very good babies. You can all have yogurt. Your dad is literally in the kitchen. Go there.”
The reality that my bathroom is about four feet by three feet is probably a pertinent piece of information. It’s a stunningly small space, yet my children cram themselves in there to discuss any number of issues nearly every time they hear the water run. It’s like the shower head sends some kind of dog whistle out to wherever they’re playing and instantly makes them go insane. Which, in turn, makes me go insane. The only one who is seemingly unbothered by this whole situation is my husband, who somehow managed to find himself quietly drinking coffee alone at the kitchen table, while I stood naked with soap in my eyes fighting about yogurt and baby behaviors.
Seven and a half years ago, my husband and I were at a restaurant near our house with our baby son. At that time we were fostering him, so in addition to being new parents, we were also uncertain parents. Would we keep this baby long term? Would we continue to be a family of three past this year? Would we see him to his first birthday? We didn’t know.
What we did know was that attachment was important; it’s a life skill we need to nurture no matter the permanency of our parental status. Children need to learn to attach. So I wore our baby non-stop.
As we were making our way to our table, we bumped into some friends of ours. Their youngest daughter was several months older than our baby, and at that time she was straining in the arms of her dad, reaching her arms out across the restaurant to where she could see her mom at their table just a few feet away. Our friend gestured to his wife to come relieve him of their squirming daughter.
“She wants you,” he said and passed the now wailing baby girl off to his wife. The instant she was secured in her mother’s arms she quieted.
And my heart plunged.
I looked down at the three-month-old sleeping on my chest and prayed that someday he would want me like that. That I would be able to do the work of bonding and have a baby or babies that needed me, wanted me, and felt attached.
Looking back, I know my heart was in the right place. That was the right prayer to pray, but also if God had been less diligent in answering my prayers, I could have scored an uninterrupted shower last weekend.
“Mom, let’s take baby to the nursery for a few hours.” The nurse said as I finished feeding my newborn. We both knew that I’d been awake for almost thirty straight hours, and despite the consistent doses of pain medication, my body ached. I nodded slowly and passed the night nurse my baby.
I assume they wheeled her out of my hospital room immediately, but I don’t know because the second she left my arms I fell asleep.
Then I heard screaming. She’d only been outside my body for a day, but I knew the wailing in the hallway was coming for me. I’d hoped to feel more rested before I had to feed again.
The nurse wheeled my hysterical newborn back into the room. “Sorry, mom. We tried everything, but she’s been like this for 30 minutes.”
I glanced at the clock; I’d only slept for half an hour. The nurse lifted my inconsolable daughter from her bassinet and set her in my arms. Silence. I swear she sighed. She fell immediately asleep.
I worked for attachment with my son, and while my middle daughter was quite attached, my youngest baby took attachment to a whole new level: obsession.
At first it was cute.
“This baby only wants her mama!” the nurses in the Mother/Infant unit proclaimed (and because of the emergency C-section, our extended hospital stay afforded us lots of time to hear this from nurses).
Then we got home from the hospital, and it was easy to nap her in the sling or a wrap. Third babies, by nature, have to be along for the ride in everything the big kids want to do. But truthfully this baby didn’t sleep unless she was touching me.
She put her fingers in my mouth while she nursed. She pulled my hair. She rubbed my face. Throughout the nights she used my head as a pillow and wrapped her arms around my neck.
We’re nearly four years deep into her compulsion to be near me every moment, and I can honestly say that no one has ever loved me more. At least once a day she crawls into my lap, puts both hands on my cheeks, and presses her forehead to mine while saying “Mommy” with more love in her voice than I’ve ever heard. She plays with my hair and rubs my back, and despite being nearly four years old, she would still prefer for me to carry her. Everywhere.
The other day while Mason was at school, my youngest, Eloise, lounged on my lap, as per usual, while Vivi gathered the library books she wanted me to read. I suggested that Eloise scoot off so that I could turn the pages more easily. She turned her head up towards mine and shot daggers from her eyes.
“Well, Eloise,” I said. “I think you’re going to live on my lap for the rest of your life!”
“Mom!” Viv laughed. I could hear the eye roll in her voice. “Someday we’re going to grow up and have our own lives, you know.”
“Yeah,” said Eloise shifting her weight. “And I’m moving to Mexico.”
This from the girl who still doesn’t spend a full night in her own bed.
“Oh, really?” I said. “And what are you going to do in Mexico?”
She looked back at me again, as though she couldn’t believe she even had to answer such a question.
“Uh, be a beach girl who drinks strawberry smoothies and naps in a pool chair.”
Obviously. How could I not know that?
“That’s what you’re going to be when you grow up?”
“Yeah. It is.”
Funny. That’s what I was going to do when she grew up.
Jokes aside, her answer kind of shocked me. I really thought she would say that she wanted to live with me forever. Mason, the child I worked the hardest to bond with, the child who didn’t lay his head on my shoulder for comfort until he was eleven months old, maintains that he is going to college at the University one mile from our house and then will purchase a home no further than one block away from me and see me everyday for the rest of his life.
I know the childish fantasies of my children will change with time. Eloise will likely not move to Mexico to be a beach girl, and Mason will probably go to college further than one mile away, but Vivi is right: no matter what, they’re going to grow up and have their own lives.
All this bonding and attaching I’ve been doing hasn’t been for me, it’s been for them, so they can build relationships outside of me, so they can feel loved and confident and secure enough to go out into the world (away from me) and flourish. If I do this motherhood thing well, I’ll work myself out of a job.
It’s very likely my children will never be more attached to me than they are right now. I am still the center of their universe. And while this season is overwhelming and exhausting and often pushes me all the way to the limits of my sanity, the truth is that this season is fleeting.
While my immediate desires are to shower in peace and drink a cup of coffee while it’s warm, I also know the season when I get to do those things daily will come far too soon. Even though I still have three people climbing into my bed and pulling on my arms and talking to me without ceasing, I’m slowly beginning to gain a glimpse of the type of independence that is just around the corner. This freedom to experience independence and build a life outside of me is what I want for them, but for now, what I want for me is to remember that, in many ways, I only have right now. And no matter how crazy I feel, right now is really what I’ve always wanted.